It would be boring if all the Twits played nice
This silly season, don’t get drunk and drive. And don’t get tipsy and tweet.
Twitter now has more than 200 million users, and every day seems to bring a new tweeting scandal.
Who would have thought two thumbs and 140 characters could get us into so much trouble? As a new twit, I mean, tweeter, it’s no wonder I’m sweating over every character I type. But I am also worried that we’re going a little bit overboard in our campaign to keep social media nice.
In the past year we’ve seen it all.
We’ve had the serious: TV presenter Charlotte Dawson who attempted suicide after receiving hate-filled tweets from a raft of strangers.
We’ve had the foolish: singer Josh Brookes, who was removed from the X Factor after inviting girls to send in nude pictures.
And we’ve had the angry: a certain AFL footballer who tweeted “your mum has given me AIDS” to someone who’d criticised him in a tweet.
Clearly, there are examples where tweets are malicious and vicious, and action needs to be taken to keep people safe.
But there are just as many Twitter scandals where the offending tweet is merely silly rather than actually dangerous.
We don’t want to clean things us so much that Twitter and Facebook become bland and boring. After all, their appeal lies in their openness, edginess and unpredictability.
Take, for instance, US show Jimmy Kimmel Live, which gets celebrities to read out mean posts they’ve received.
This year’s crop includes Katy Perry (I would rather chop my arm off and **** myself with my detached limb than watch Katy Perry the movie”) and Justin Bieber (“Dear God, give us back 2pac and we’ll give you Justin Bieber”).
And there’s also TV host Larry King who read out this one: “Did you know that if you skinned Larry King & ironed out his leather, you could make enough coats to give 1 to every poor child in America”.
I take the point they’re making: that even big stars have feelings too.
But some of the outrage is a bit hard to stomach. As long as it’s not directly threatening, or part of a concerted campaign of abuse, surely copping a bit of flack is just part of the job of being a billionaire public figure?
So how do we get the balance right?
A new measure in the United Kingdom could point to a way forward for Australian courts and lawmakers.
The UK’s new guidelines for the prosecution of people who misuse social media, draws a line between posts or tweets that are deliberately dangerous and threatening, and those that are merely nasty or offensive.
The policy also makes it clear that someone is less likely to be prosecuted if they hit delete and express remorse after the fact (say, when they sober up).
It’s a really important return to commonsense and a sign that free speech is worth protecting.
One single silly tweet that wasn’t intended to cause offence shouldn’t take years of court time to resolve.
A recent UK example involved a man who was frustrated about an airport being closed due to snow. He jokingly tweeted that he wanted to blow the airport “sky high”. He spent two years in court facing serious charges and was only finally cleared a few months ago. A brief investigation should have established the man was a bad joker, but not a Unabomber.
I know we have to look after people’s feelings, and be responsible for what we post. However, we also want a vibrant social media space that makes us laugh, cry, cringe and think, and challenges us to see things in a new way.
But just to be on the safe side, perhaps it’s best to keep texting while under the influence to a minimum this summer.
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